Rowdy groups waving the red flag of communist China and yelling obscenities has become a common sight whenever there are demonstrations in solidarity with the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, not only in Canada but also in Australia and New Zealand.
But it was taken up a notch when two people in full People’s Liberation Army honour guard uniforms holding a Chinese Communist Party flag goose-stepped in the face of pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Auckland on Nov. 2. New Zealand’s Stuff publication later revealed the two were Chinese international high school students, and said the police couldn’t immediately confirm if there are laws around non-military members wearing military uniforms in public.
In October 2018, a similar incident occurred in Kamloops, B.C., when members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) at Thompson Rivers University held a flag-raising ceremony while wearing military-style Chinese uniforms.
Active on most major university campuses in western countries, CSSAs often publicly declare that they are funded or supported by the local Chinese consulate and are known to hold pro-Beijing events. In September, the CSSA at McMaster University was banned by the student union due to its intervention in a human rights event on campus related to the Uyghur minority group in China.
In another such case to extol the People’s Liberation Army in Canada, a Chinese military veterans’ group organized a choir performance glorifying the Chinese communist revolution and military in the Toronto area in October.
Also in October, a school in the Vancouver area drew criticism for showing Mandarin students scenes from the Chinese propaganda film “My People, My Country.” Intended to stir love of the homeland, the film includes stories of members of the Chinese military in the line of duty. In an assignment labelled “I love my homeland,” the students were asked to document how the scenes made them feel good, the South China Morning Post reported.
Events in Canada to support Beijing’s line on various issues are increasingly making the news. But what came as a big surprise was Ottawa’s decision to send Canadian soldiers to take part in China’s military games at a time when Canadian citizens remain behind bars in China, and only a few months after two Chinese fighter jets buzzed the Canadian navy fleet in international waters in the East China Sea.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa used the event, held in Wuhan City in October, and the participation by Canada and other nations to claim that “more countries commend China’s foreign policy and development path.”
David Kilgour, a former secretary of state for Asia Pacific, says it should have been obvious that taking part in such an event was inappropriate.
“Of course [Beijing] is going to use it for propaganda purposes. Somebody at Global Affairs or National Defence should have stopped the proposed participation beforehand,” he said.
Governor General Julie Payette also recently drew criticism after expressing hope to China’s new ambassador that Canada and China can use the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations next year to “bridge any divide” between them.
Kilgour says it’s normal to make welcoming remarks to representatives of most countries, but not today’s China.
“In the context of what the government of China has done to two Canadians in prison now for almost a year without a charge, what it has done to Canadian canola growers, and the fact that 9 in 10 Canadians according to a Nanos opinion survey a month ago understandably have a negative view of China’s government, its new ambassador should not be welcomed too warmly.”
‘Number One Issue’
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney says there’s a need for an in-depth examination of what China’s rise in the world means for Canada.
“It’s useful to step back and think about China in a larger, global context—what its rise means for our own worldview,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mulroney is hardly alone in urging more reflection on China’s place in the world and the implications for Canada.
“China is the number one issue that Canada faces, because China is very aggressively trying to change the world order,” Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said in a past interview.
Crowley said dealing with China should be Ottawa’s top priority, as it’s not just an issue of international politics, given that China aggressively tries to influence domestic issues in Canada by attempting to control the Chinese diaspora and change Canada’s policies on issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights, and free trade.
“Canadians have not yet understood how deeply China is trying to affect Canada,” he said.